A Month of Art'ist'ic Appreciation

Across Paris and London, heavyweight auction houses, institutions and galleries are celebrating the fascinating works of

Expressionist and Impressionist artists.

As Impressionism continues to lead the art market for the fifth year running, the Musee d’Orsay is spotlighting the movement's inception in Paris. While auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's will commemorate the radical artists with notable sale events. Meanwhile, the emotionally-oriented Expressionists will also be honoured at London's Tate Modern. With a myriad of prominent auctions and exhibitions to choose from, which event will capture your interest? 

Henri Mattis (1869-1954), Vase of Flowers (Vase de fleurs), 1898-1900 © CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2024

In one corner are the Impressionists of the late 19th century, whose Paris-based founders were keenly attuned to the transient light and colour around them. From Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir to Edgar Degas and Paul Cezanne, they cultivated an oeuvre of striking pigments and emphatic brushwork. Now hailed as revolutionary, the first group exhibition in Paris (1874) was criticised by onlookers favouring realism.

Readers are able to appreciate the artists’ work up-close at Paris’ museum Musée d’Orsay, and its Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism exhibition. First opening on March 26th, it reviews the movement's inception, and how legends like Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot immortalised their love for both provincial and urban landscapes by painting en plein air (outside) amidst apricot summers and bleak midwinters. From theatres and cafés to countryside resorts and the Parisian working class, the movement exposed the beauty of ordinary life and distilled ephemeral moments in time.

Pierre-auguste Renoir (1841-1919) Bust with Hat (Buste au Chapeau) © CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2024

Today, Impressionists are most remembered for their use of complementary hues, and tendency to simplify figures and forms into bold layers of colour. There's Renoir's La Yole (1875) painting of a saffron boat sailing on cobalt blue water. Not to mention Degas' clusters of ballerinas in sumptuous sapphire leotards and clouds of frothy orange tulle.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the First Impressionist Exhibition, Christie’s Œuvres choisies auction in Paris yesterday and the Art Impressionniste and Moderne sale today, promises to be an auspicious event; with a stellar line-up of famed practitioners like Alfred Sisley and Maurice Denis.

Sotheby's will then close Paris' month of Impressionism with an evening auction offering pieces “from the very beginning of Impressionism to today’s most cutting-edge creations.” The advent marks the first sale since their modern and contemporary art departments joined forces in the French city.

Der Blaue Reiter, R. Piper & Co., Munich, 1912, book cover © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Tate Modern

While Impressionism was a reaction against the classical canon of the past, the emergence of Expressionism across Germany's urban landscape and beyond was, in part, motivated by a desire to reinforce humanity's relationship with spirituality and authenticity.

Some of its contemporaries like Franz Marc "borrowed" techniques from Impressionism such as automatic painting. But rather than concentrate on the external world, they focused on their inner feelings and emotional state. Anxieties and desires permeated through exaggerated forms and dynamic distortions.

Hugely inspired by the symbolism running through late-19th-century art, many Expressionists looked to the works of Edvard Munch, and James Ensor to inspire their works. The Russian Expressionist painter Alexej von Jawlensky, for instance, was influenced by Vincent van Gogh- a Post-Impressionist (or the first Expressionist, depending on who you ask). Indeed, as seen in van Gogh's The Starry Night (1889), Jawlensky also used rough immediate brushstrokes and uneven lines to create his textural portraits.


Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc Marianne von Werefkin, Self-portrait I, c.1910 Lenbachhaus Munich © Tate Modern

The Listening portrait (1909) of Jawlensky by the German Expressionist Gabriele Münter will be showcased at the Tate Modern's Expressionists: Kandinsky, Münter and the Blue Rider exhibition (April 25th to October 20th). The seminal retrospective will explore how a syndicate of friends banded together to form the Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) group.

Encompassing celebrated artists like Münter, Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, the group was linked by a desire to pursue the spiritual value of art. Together, they transformed the face of modern art and forged a legacy that lasted long after their dispersal during the outbreak of the First World War. Inspired by the folk art of provincial towns and the urban metropolis of Munich, the transnational history of Expressionism is a tale of cultural exchange and community.

What seems to tie both movements together is their forward trajectory and unabashed experimentation with form and colour. Is it truly possible to choose between the complementary palettes of the Impressionists, and the exaggerated distortions of the Expressionists? Perhaps, like van Gogh's Post-Impressionism, your tastes reside somewhere in-between.

Title image. Marianne von Werefkin, The Dancer, Alexander Sacharoff, 1909. Fondazione Marianne Werefkin, Museo Comunale d'Arte Moderna, Ascona © Tate Modern